Australia – New South Wales
Legal daylight bathing at Australian beaches in the early 1900s did not mark the demise of demand for ocean pools. To reduce the risk of nursing staff of the Coast Hospital (later the Prince Henry Hospital) being attacked by sharks when sea bathing at night, the New South Wales government developed a ring-of-rocks ocean pool on Sydney’s Little Bay. New ocean pools were also developed at Newcastle (the 100 yards long and 50 yards wide Newcastle Ocean Baths), Sydney (in Warringah Shire, Cronulla’s Shelly Beach and Oak Park within the Sutherland Shire) and the Illawarra (Wombarra, Clifton, Bulli and Gerringong). The last public ocean pool created on the coast of New South Wales created for the sole use of men appears to have been the Men’s Baths at Gerringong in the Illawarra region.
After the 1911 NSW government inquiry into surf bathing recommended mixed bathing (allowing men, women and children to bathe together) as one of a raft of safety measures, including increased support for surf lifesaving clubs, concerns about the respectability of mixed bathing at surf beaches diminished markedly. Despite the gender-segregation being abandoned at Australian surf beaches on safety grounds, it was still enforced at older ocean pools in Sydney, Newcastle and the Illawarra region. By 1910, the only one of the three ocean pools on Sydney’s Coogee Bay where men, women and children were permitted to bathe together was the privately developed and operated Wylies Baths. By contrast, the newly created surfside shires regarded their ocean pools as beach safety measures to which people’s access should not be limited by fences, admission charges, supervised hours, age or gender.
Ocean pools also functioned as world-class venues for competitive swimming. Barney Kieran set a record for the one-mile event at the Bondi Baths in 1904 and a world record time for 500 yards at the 1905 New South Wales swimming championships held at the Bronte Baths. Ocean pools hosting swimming carnivals for public and private schools included Waverley’s Council’s Bondi and Bronte Baths and Wollongong’s Men’s Baths. Cadet groups, surf lifesaving clubs and the Royal Life Saving Society lifesavers also trained and competed at ocean pools including the Newcastle Bogey Hole, Newcastle Ocean Baths and the Bondi Baths. A Wollongong ocean pool hosted a ladies swimming carnival in 1903 and in 1904, the management committee of the Kiama Ladies Baths with support from Kiama’s men’s swimming club staged a swimming carnival for women and girls.
Ocean pools remained important training and competition venues for amateur swimming clubs and the success of the Australasian swimming team at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm fuelled interest in competitive swimming by both men and women. Olympic gold medalist, Fanny Durack, was a member of the Eastern Suburbs Ladies Club, which swam at the Bronte Baths in 1907 and 1910 and was later based at the Bondi Baths. Olympic silver medalist, Mina Wylie was among the promising swimmers at the Wentworth Ladies Club, which swam at the Coogee Ladies Baths during 1907 and Wylies Baths (developed and operated by her father) during 1910.
Ocean pools also hosted clubs affiliated with the NSW League of Swimmers, which allowed its swimmers to compete for prizemoney. League clubs associated with ocean pools included:
- the Waverley District League based at the Bronte Baths by 1911,
- the South Sydney League and Waverley Ladies club based at Bronte Baths from 1912,
- the League Swimming Club based at Wollongong’s Men’s Baths, which attracted members from Wollongong’s two surf lifesaving clubs.